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Chrome for Mac Imminent, Why We Should Care

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It has been a long time coming. Google’s (s goog) Chrome web browser has been available on Windows for over a year, while Mac users have been left with three options — take their chances with a nightly build of the open-source fork of Chrome (dubbed Chromium), use Google’s developer release, or wait for an official Google release.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler reported yesterday that Chrome for Mac is just a handful of bugs away from a release — specifically, seven bugs, in case you’re counting. But in order to reach their end-of-year deadline for release, the code-jockeys at Google had to do a bit of a hatchet-job on the Mac version of their browser.

So far, Siegler says, all signs point to the exclusion of the Bookmark Manager, App Mode (which emulates the single-window web app functionality offered by Fluid), Task Manager, Gears, Sync for Mac (for syncing bookmarks across Macs), Multi-touch Gesture support, Full Screen Mode and Extensions.

Mike Pinkerton, Technical Lead for Google Chrome for Mac, was asked by Twitter user @boundlessdreamz “When will extensions work correctly on mac? Is that a blocker?”

Pinkerton replied, “No on extensions for beta. But we’ll get them soon. Must draw the line somewhere.”

If you’re a Safari user, you won’t feel too bad about missing Extensions support. If Safari proves anything, it’s that a fully functional and productive web browser doesn’t need to be chock-full of third-party extensions. Mine has only two; Evernote and 1Password. And I could probably live without the former, if I’m honest.

The lack of Gears comes as no great surprise, either. Google Gears doesn’t work on Snow Leopard anyway, and Google has been uncharacteristically rubbish at communicating why it’s being so slow at fixing it. On this point, Siegler adds, “Apparently, Google plans to push ahead with full HTML5 support rather than rely on Gears, at least on the Mac.”

I wonder what prompted that decision? Timing? Complexity? Or perhaps Gears becomes less desirable in a standards-compliant WebKit-world where functionality, speed and compatibility across multiple devices and multiple form-factors becomes the driving force in browser development.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know which technology more elegantly supports offline data storage; Gears or HTML5. In any case, Gears’ absence on Snow Leopard is deeply irritating for those of us who want to use GMail offline, or take advantage of drag-and-drop functionality in Google Wave. If Chrome marks the start of a Google-wide migration away from Gears and toward HTML5 (even if only for the Mac), I welcome it.

Also out of the equation (at this stage, anyway) is any mention of 64-bit compatibility. But there is, predictably, nothing surprising about that at all. If, like me, you’ve been pursuing the 64-bit dream, you’ll know how consistently disappointing the experience is — practically no one is building apps with true support for 64-bit OS X — and no, Apple’s home-grown Mail and iCal apps don’t count!

Why Should We Care?

For the last five months I’ve tried various builds of Chromium, which has so far been a bit of a mixed-bag when it comes to little things like performance and stability. Oh wait — did I say those were “little things?” Of course, what I meant to say was “stonking-great major issues.”

To be fair, Chromium shows promise, but it’s still much too “unfinished” to be my primary browser. And in case you were wondering, my primary browser is Safari. No, not because I’m an Apple fanboi, but because it’s stable, it’s lightweight, and it’s not a resource-hog. I used to love Firefox and recommended it to everyone, but I barely use the thing these days. Even with no third-party extensions installed, it takes an age to load and the UI is bafflingly inconsistent with the rest of OS X.

Ultimately, why should we care about Yet Another Browser? Well, just consider how much time you spend in a browser every day. Personally, most of my time is spent in Safari. I regularly have several dozen tabs open, often for days at a time. Most of my work is made up of hours spent reading, researching and writing, and while the latter used to take place in a dedicated word processor, Safari is now so stable and dependable I’ve gradually started doing more and more real-time, “live” writing inside the browser. I never would have taken that risk a year ago, but now I barely give it a thought.

In fact, the browser is such a primary, fundamental element in day-to-day computing that Google has built an entire operating system out of it.

In short, web browsers are big business, and make all the difference in how we perceive, experience and interact with the web. I’m all for a new browser that’s fast and functional and plays well with the websites and services I already use. I’m looking forward to putting Chrome for Mac through its paces — I hope it was worth the wait.

15 Responses to “Chrome for Mac Imminent, Why We Should Care”

  1. I don’t think that Google doesn’t care. I think they have a goal to achieve, to kick Microsofts ass. When their is a presentation of new software from Google or a look into their headquarters, you can see a lot of Macs are used by the staff, but it’s the primary goal to get the Win Users away from the Win stuff.
    After that, they think of other operating systems.

    • If they cared, they’d release on Mac and PC concurrently.

      If they cared, it wouldn’t be over a year since Chrome was released and the Mac still has bupkis.

      If they cared, when the Mac finally gets something it wouldn’t be a half-assed “beta”.

      Windows is 95%, Mac is 4%. Google is just as aware of that as anybody, and acts accordingly. They. Don’t. Care. They’ll toss the Mac table scraps when they feel like it and, apparently, many Mac users are cool with that.

      For any Apple fan whose got it in their head that Apple’s success this last decade has somehow altered the software landscape, one need only look at The Great Google’s actions to see that nothing has changed. Mac users are still second-class citizens.

  2. I don’t care because Google doesn’t care. It’s really that simple. They treat the Mac about as well as Adobe does. I have no idea why so many Mac users (geeks or not) seem interested in putting this half-finished insult to the Mac community on their machines, but I’m not one of them.

    For those of you taking the plunge, I’m sure Google will also include their hidden and if-you-delete-it-we’ll-just-reinstall-it updater as a bonus. Two pieces of garbage in one!

  3. heavyboots

    I tend to use Safari as my default browser too.

    Where FF shines is when you actually *need* a plugin. Eg. to make Adobe’s wretched new forums palatable takes GreaseMonkey and/or Stylish and rewriting the entire site on the fly. Or something like BetterPrivacy when visiting any site you are paranoid about, such that all those evil Flash LSO cookies get verifiably nuked when you close the last FF window. (BTW, you can theme FF to integrate much more nicely with the Apple OS.)

    Safari is great for straight & simple browsing but FF has the dev community to make it god-emperor of swiss army knife browsers. To gain a niche is going to require Google make a really stable browser and attract/bootstrap a strong extensions dev community imho. (And you’re right–much of that is unlikely to be apparent in the beta.)

  4. I have grown tired of the browser wars when at the end of the day the differences between most of them are a perceived few seconds here and there. The fact that Chrome is still not finished for Mac and even once it is released it will not be feature complete is suspect.

    I visit a webpage in Firefox and I can see that page and use its functions. End of story for me.

  5. Although I have a special place in my heart with Safari, the way it archives web pages on your system is incredibly poor. Even if I empty my cache and reset Safari, pages of information are still buried deep in my system, unaware to a normal user. Because safari screen shots everything you visit (all a part of your history and the coverflow experience), everything you do is taken as a snapshot, then archived off. This can result in wasted storage space on your hard disk, and I wag my finger at Apple for not making it easier to clean these caches out. The browser though gains points for being the most useful on a Mac, since you can open .pdfs in Safari (you don’t have to download first then open as you would with Firefox), 1Password integration is excellent, etc.

    Firefox is up in the air, since it extensively when shopping. The addition of addons an all the price tracking features I’ve added to the browser make it a no brainer, and I suggest it to any Windows user switching platforms. It’s not pretty, but, you can theme it to make it more Mac like. My Firefox looks like the Safari 3 beta (I enjoy tabs on top better – don’t ask why).

    Then we have Google, whose tools blatantly remind you that as long as you are using their products, they’re gathering information about what you’re searching for, is it related, etc. Even in beta though, their browser is pretty decent despite it’s unfortunate lack of development compared to its Windows brethren. On feature I really like though is it’s sheer simplicity. Even more so than Safari, Chrome offers essentials in a minimalist environment – the omnibar is possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread, since everyone I know never uses the @%#! search bar, but rather the address bar anyway. Props to google for giving me one less thing to tab to.

    I think any browser you choose is fine, as long as it’s not Internet Explorer. <- We can all agree on that.

  6. I’ve been using Mac Chromium (the beta of Mac Chrome) for the last four months, updating the builds daily courtesy of TechCrunch’s awesome little utility:

    Chromium has slowly worked its way into becoming my primary browser as these daily builds have become more and more stable. It’s faster than anything else out there, the user interface is top-notch, it handles windows and tabs better than safari, and did I mention it’s fast?

    I can’t even boot Firefox now, it’s horrifically slow in comparison.